B-boy (was Re: Bamboo Spanish, etc.)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Mon Apr 25 14:16:05 UTC 2005

On Mon, 25 Apr 2005 03:35:46 -0400, bapopik at AOL.COM wrote:

>I just got finished adding "tar beach" and "B-boy" and "pedlock" to my

>From the site:


“B-Boy” or “B-Girl” (also “Bronx boy/girl” or “break boy/girl”) are
breakdancing terms from the 1980s Bronx. They are still used today.

As suggested by the Urbandictionary listing you quote, the term "B-boy"
actually emerged in the mid-'70s.  But the first major press account of
"B-boys" was a 1981 _Village Voice_ article:

Banes, Sally. "To the Beat Y'all: Breaking Is Hard to Do." In: _The
Village Voice_ April 22-28, 1981, p. 31. Also available in: _And It Don't
Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years_, edited
by Raquel Cepeda. New York: Faber & Faber, 2004.

The _Voice_ article is also quoted in Jeff Chang's new book _Can't Stop
Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation_ (p. 157, searchable on

For the current generation of B Boys, it doesn't matter that the Breakdown
is an old name in Afro-American dance for both rapid, complex footwork and
a competitive format. Or that a break in jazz means a soloist's improvised
bridge between melodies. For the B Boys, the history of breaking started
six or seven years ago, maybe in the Bronx, maybe in Harlem. It started
with the Zulus. Or with Charlie Rock. Or with Joe from the Casanovas, from
the Bronx, who taught it to Charlie Rock. "Breaking means going crazy on
the floor. It means making a style for yourself."

(The article also appears in _Writing Dancing in the Age of Postmodernism_
by Sally Banes, which is supposedly searchable on Amazon, but I can't get
the "Search Inside the Book" facility to work properly on that book.)

--Ben Zimmer

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